Trip Supported By (Thank You!!)
The Patience and Encouragement of My Wife!
Office of Academic Affairs Technology Grant (Dr. Levy)
International Affairs (Dr Harrington)
Chemistry (Dr. Spencer)
BOR Chancellors Award (Atlanta)
James C. Manning III (Seneca, SC)
Thomas Manning, firstname.lastname@example.org
As a faculty member at Valdosta State University, I recently spent two weeks exploring Cuba on an academic visa. Described rhetorically as a socialistic dictatorship, it has been illegal for most American citizens to travel or trade with Cuba since the early 1960’s. The visa was granted by the U.S. Department of Treasury to a group of faculty from Georgia’s universities to seek collaborations with Cuban universities and investigate the potential for taking classes to Cuba. Exploratory trips such as this are becoming more common as Fidel Castro’s age (75) and health become strong issues.
Figure 1. At the entrance to Santiago de Cuba, sight of the famous naval battle in which several Spanish warships were sunk by the United States fleet sits Morro Castle, constructed by the Spanish in the 16th century. Despite being Cuba’s second largest city with over 1 million people, the Caribbean shoreline outside Santiago remains pristine and undeveloped.
From a technical perspective, Cuba is a nation of contradictions. If one looks at Cuba’s industrial base, individual wealth, and lack of individual freedom it would fall under the umbrella of a third world dictatorship. If one looks at its socialized distribution of food, high literacy rate, low crime rate, and a life expectancy that approaches the United States it appears to be acting more like a first world nation. In many ways the advances made under Castro were made by wisely implementing techniques such as chlorinating water, strictly enforced laws, inoculating children, and guaranteeing the population a basic diet of rice, milk, etc. With the demise of the Soviet Union in the late 1980’s, the aid that propped up the Cuban economy for almost three decades suddenly disappeared and many of the basics, from vaccinations to fuel, have been decreasing in availability. Currently strong trading partners with Cuba include Canada, Mexico and Spain with China starting to gain a foothold in both the tourism (hotel construction, etc.) and manufacturing (bicycles, TV’s, etc.) industries.
Figure 2. A sign on a prime piece of real estate in Havana overlooking the Florida Straights announces the construction of a new hotel involving a Chinese company.
In the Cuban history rewritten by the Fidel Castro regime, Jose Marti is the hero of the war for Cuban independence fought in the late nineteen century in which the United States defeated Spanish naval and ground forces in and around Santiago de Cuba. Artifacts, documents, statutes, etc that mark the time period 1902 to 1959, the later being the year Castro took power, have been destroyed leading to a huge gap in Cuban history. In 2001, Castro vividly extols the virtues of his revolution and triumph over the corrupt Batiste government throughout Cuba with an endless number propagandized billboards, flags, and souvenir shops.
Figure 3. Billboards like this are found throughout Cuba and remind citizens about the ongoing revolution, started by Fidel Castro in the 1950’s.
Figure 4. Because of the trade embargo with Cuba, Americans can not use their Visa, MasterCard’s, ATM cards, Travelers Checks, Money Orders, etc and must carry cash to cover all expenses. Street hustlers know this, recognize that you have a large amount of money on you, and can be very aggressive in their pursuits. Many Cuban vendors can not change large bills so a stack of 1,5,10, and 20’s is needed.
Figure 5. While the embargo restricts US companies from trading with Cuba, some products manage to find their way through to Cuba. Restaurants and hotels with a strong financial influence from European and Canadian entities routinely sell Coke that is manufactured in Mexico (see above, read fine print).
When our travel agenda through Cuba was released by the Americas World Council a brief lunch stop in Las Tunas was planned for the eleventh day of the fourteen day itinerary. What resulted during this layover reflected many aspects of Cuban society today. We pulled into the town square, a central feature in most Cuban towns, with its Christian church, statues, government offices and state owned businesses. As illustrated in the photographs (past and present) below, there was little change in the fine-looking town square and its elegant and powerful Spanish architecture. This was reflected throughout Cuba, as well constructed brick and stone buildings built before Castro’s regime were often in a significant state of deterioration when not in the direct path of tourism. Many of the structures erected during the Castro regime have a distinct Soviet flavor featuring square, gray brick structures that are functional as apartment buildings or water towers but seem out of place on the Caribbean island.
Figure 6. Above is the Las Tunas town square picture in 2001 and below is the same square in 1946. The top image was taken by Dr. Manning in 2001 and the bottom by his father while doing a tour of duty in Cuba with the US Marine corps.
While our two-week trip concentrated on academic endeavors, there was a humanistic aspect I wanted to investigate in Las Tunas, a landlocked, agriculture based community. In 1946 my father, James C. Manning III, visited Las Tunas, Cuba as a seventeen year old United States Marine. He was with a friend (John Milko), also a marine, who had relatives in Las Tunas. John Milko’s family left Armenia in the 1900’s and some went to Boston (Mass) and others went to Cuba. Assigned to Guantanomo Bay in eastern Cuba, they traveled to Las Tunas to find family members his parents had last direct contact with in southwestern Asia. In 1946, John Milko and Jim Manning were successful in finding family members and photographically recorded the trip. While it is common for Americans to have a draw (or closet!) full of old photo’s, pictures (particularly old ones) are rare in Cuba.
Figure 7. (top). In 1946 James Manning is pictured with several Cuban boys (note small boy second from left). John Milko (middle) is pictured with an aunt, her sister and their children (note small boy he is holding). John Milko (below) is pictured with his uncle, an Armenian immigrant that owned some business’s in Las Tunas but lost them when Fidel Castro took control of the island nation.
While in Las Tunas a small group of faculty approached a group of old men sitting in the park with the old pictures hoping to find some of the people photographed in 1946. Several of the men poured over the pictures and the description provided. Much excitement was generated as interpreters translated quickly. After a period of 30 minutes we were directed to the Provincial Museum (there are 14 provinces in Cuba) located on the town square. We agreed to donate the fifteen 8x10 glossy images to the museum, received a certificate from the curator, and were told that the pictures would be used in approaching 250th anniversary celebration of the town. The fact that the American men pictured were in USMC uniforms was irrelevant to the historians. Throughout the trip it became apparent that most Cubans have a family member or close friend in America and, despite the constant negative propaganda from Castro, most people were very curious about the US.
Figure 8. The curator presents a certificate to Dr. Manning of donation for the images given to the museum. Particularly in rural Cuba, photographs, old or new, are rare.
At this point an older man walked into the museum escorted by some of the men from the square. He proceeded to pour over the pictures and started to cry. He identified himself as the small boy in several of the pictures and pointed out his mother, uncle, sisters and cousins. He was related to the late John Milko (originally Milkonian, changed upon immigration to USA) but only knew vaguely about his relatives in Massachusetts. These were the first photographic images he saw of his family. He pointed to some that had moved to America, others still lived in Las Tunas and some had passed away. A retired engineer, he had taught classes at the University of Santiago and worked for the government. He told us, as if it happened yesterday, his uncle had lost his two business’s and hotel when Castro came to power. In addition to lacking free speech and the right to vote, Cubans are restricted in their ability to move from one town to another so it is expected to find families living in the house occupied by their parents and grandparents decades ago.
Figure 9. A Cuban man identifies himself and his relatives in pictures taken in 1946. He is the young boy pictured in the figure 7a,b above.
During the trip I brought a Polaroid camera that gave instant images. While pictures of individuals or ancestors are common in the United States, the vast majority citizens of Cuba in the year 2001 have never seen a picture of themselves. The Polaroid camera quickly became known as "the diplomat" as we’d walk into rural town squares and markets and take pictures of people and leave them with the photographs. An extraordinary number of handshakes and smiles were generated with these instant images. The American-Cuban tension that existed in some personal interactions, quickly vanished as fifty year old men proudly showed off their image to friends, women quickly brushed their hair in anticipation of being in the next picture, and parents rounded up children for the first family photograph.
Figure 10. A Cuban mother and her son working in a fruit market had their picture taken together for the first time. Throughout the trip we used a Polaroid to take pictures and leave them with Cubans.
Figure 11. In Santiago de Cuba, an old man leans out his front window watching and waiting. Like many Cuban buildings, there is a solid stone frame but accessories like windows, pictures, furniture, lighting fixtures, etc are in short supply.
Figure12. A glimpse inside the Plaza Hotel in Havana, a middle-class destination, the interior is exquisite. Like most tourist destinations, from hotels to beaches, uniformed guards keep Cuban citizens from entering. The dual dollar-peso economy results in the state owned tourism industry treating international tourists significantly better than its own citizens.
Once we moved past the tourist dominated centers where begging, prostitution and hustling are common, and entered communities like Las Tunas we found the Cuban people warm, friendly and curious not only about us but also their future as a country an individuals. While there is clearly a shortage of food for nutritionally balanced diets, medicine, crammed housing, etc common in many developing nations, the Cuban people acknowledge the "Special Economic Period" (1992-present) as temporary and something that one day will be overcome. With its tourism, agriculture (sugar, tobacco, etc.) and mining (nickel, copper), Cuba has established a lifestyle that is the envy of most Latin American countries. Cuba has wisely invested in the biotechnology industry and a strong medical community, opportunities that may continue to raise the island nation of eleven million substantially above many of its neighbors in the Western hemisphere. On the other hand, it is common to find university graduates with degrees in law, medicine, business and engineering working in the tourism industry (driving cabs, bartenders, etc.) because the money is significantly better.
With various sectors of the Cuban industrial sector ready to expand, and its managers measuring their personal success in ration books rather than dollars, one has to question our embargo. It seems that opening the doors to Cuba and flooding the island economy with capitalism will rapidly change in the basic power structure. Although its only my opinion, it seems that most Cubans, both in Cuba and the US, would welcome this approach.
Figure 13. (above) The CDR, a government organization, oversees its citizens in communities throughout Cuba. (below) The PCC sign announces the location of the communist party in the town of Matanzas.
Figure 14. The Soviet Union provided much of Cuba’s oil for three decades. Since the Soviet pullout in the early nineties Cuba has been expanding its oil exploration, albeit at a limited rate, and production from its on reserves. This well is located approximately 60 miles east of Havana.
Figure 15. Wood was rarely used in Cuban houses but the solid stone and concrete structures have uniformly deteriorated over the past forty years under the Castro regime.
Figure 16. Part of Dr. Manning’s research agenda was to see how the Cuban aquaculture industry was dealing with various viral infections that have struck shrimp farms around the world. This shrimp farm is located on the Caribbean Sea near the town of Trinidad.
Figure 17. Throughout Cuba old American cars are common. Unlike this one, most are in poor shape when viewed up close. Steering wheels carved from wood, hub cabs made from aluminum cans and plastic sheets for windows are common.
Figure 18. The Cuban countryside and waterfront are pristine in most areas. Scientists continue to find new species of flowers, birds, bugs, fish, etc on a regular basis but larger various species mammals are less common than the United States or Latin or South America.
Figure 19. Another part of TJM's work was to investigate the use of ozone in medical and water treatment applications, as conducted by the Ozone Research Center in Havana. While Cuba spends less than $20 per person per year on health care, the life expectancy of its citizens is similar to the U.S. and it does a better job vaccinating its children, providing expecting mothers with health care, etc.
APPENDIX A. While Cuba’s income per person per year is in-line with that of a third world nation, its health care and literacy rates are similar to that of an industrialized nation (data for this table and those below is taken from World Health Organization (www.who.org) and the CIA Fact book (Central Intelligence Agency is a US Federal Agency).
APPENDIX B. The life expectancies of five southern
states, including Georgia, does not match that of Cuba.
These states are ranked 46-50th in the United States.
APPENDIX C. Despite its small economic commitment to health care, Cuba’s infant mortality rate is similar to the United States but thirteen times better than Haiti, a country that lies a mere forty miles to the east of Guantanamo Bay. Cuba has done a substantially better job dealing with HIV care when compared to the United States.